In mid-March the “Observatoire de l’enfermement des étrangers” (OEE) issued a statement calling for the immediate release of immigration detainees as legally, the state can only hold them for the time necessary to effectuate their deportation. The observatory argued that this was now impossible due to flights being grounded and would run contrary to the recommendations of the WHO aiming to limit exporting or importing Covid-19. The government had stated that “all appropriate measures have been taken to meet the health requirements to limit the spread of the virus” and therefore there is “no health reason justifying such a release.” The OEE countered that “no satisfactory measure seems to have been put in place to protect detainees or staff against the risks of contamination.”
By the end of March, certain detainees had been released, but rather than seeing a national-level response, it seems that these decisions were being taken at a local level. Following judicial actions from lawyers and bar associations, 12 detainees were released from Plaisir CRA and 90 from Lyon CRA. According to the President of the Lyon Bar Association, maintaining people in detention would be against the law as deportation is currently impossible. Also, 55 detainees remained in Vincennes CRA and 25 remain in Meslin-Amelot CRA following the release of certain detainees, prompted by judicial actions from lawyers.
On 27 March 2020 however, the Conseil d’Etat rejected a request to close CRA’s stating that “while the 26 CRA’s have a capacity of 1800 spaces, only 350 people were detained by 20 March 2020 and 152 on 27 March 2020.”
On 30 March 2020, it was reported that the Rennes Saint-Jacques CRA was emptied and temporarily shut. All detainees were released or transferred by the “juge des libertés et de la détention” and the prefecture. By the end of the week of 23 March 2020, there were six detainees left, of which, five were released during the weekend and the last detainee transferred on 30 March 2020 to the CRA d’Oissel in Rouen.
On 1 April 2020, the “Contrôleure Général des Lieux de Privation de Liberté”, Adeline Chazan, stated that the measures taken by the government to avoid a spread of Covid-19 in prisons were insufficient. She claims that the number of people detained should not exceed the number of places. There are currently 71’000 prisoners for 60’000 spaces and the government has only released 4900 prisoners for now.
Meanwhile, in France’s overseas territories, including Mayotte and Guyana, there have been growing pressures to address the situation of migrants and asylum seekers.
In Mayotte, which is notorious for detaining thousands of children each year, officials cut off transport connections with nearby Comoros, the source of many irregular residents and workers, in mid-March. One Mayotte official explained the move, saying that since the European Union was cutting all connections to non-EU places, they would no longer be able to detain irregular migrants for removal purposes, so it was important to prevent new arrivals from coming. Also, as the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases began rising by the end of March, Mayotte implemented a series of emergency measures, which included ordering early release for some prisoners.
In Guyana, the NGO La Cimade, which has a presence inside many French immigration detention centres, issued a press release on 27 March that called on authorities to release all immigration detainees from the centre de retention because of the impossibility of carrying out removals.
- Observatoire de l’enfermement des étrangers, “Face à la crise sanitaire, l’enfermement administratif des personnes étrangères doit immédiatement cesser,” 18 March 2020, http://observatoireenfermement.blogspot.com/
- C. Carrière, “Suspicion de coronavirus au Centre de Rétention de Cornebarrieu: les associations veulent la libération des détenus,” France Info, 20 March 2020, https://bit.ly/2UXURLt
- La Cimade, “Covid-19 : pour une fermeture immédiate du Centre de Rétention Administrative de Guyane,” 27 March 2020, https://www.lacimade.org/covid-19-pour-une-fermeture-immediate-du-centre-de-retention-administrative-de-guyane/
- Contrôleur Général des Lieux de Privation de Liberté, “Covid-19 en Prison: des Mesures Gouvernementales Insuffisantes”, 1 April 2020,
- J. Constant, “Coronavirus dans les Yvelines: douze clandestins du centre de rétention de Plaisir libérés,” Le Parisien, 19 March 2020, http://www.leparisien.fr/yvelines-78/coronavirus-dans-les-yvelines-les-clandestins-du-centre-de-retention-de-plaisir-seront-ils-liberes-19-03-2020-8283528.php
- C. Conxicoeur, “Coronavirus Covid-19: le centre de rétention administrative de Lyon presque entièrement évacué,” France Info, 23 March 2020, https://bit.ly/2vVr9hw
- J. Mucchielli, “Les centres de rétention se vident, l’administration persiste,” Dalloz, 25 March 2020, www.dalloz-actualite.fr/flash/centres-de-retention-se-vident-l-administration-persiste#.XnuOEi17TLY
- Clicanoo (Mayotte), “48 détenus profitent des réductions de peine Covid-19,” 6 April 2020, https://www.clicanoo.re/Faits-Divers/Article/2020/04/06/48-detenus-profitent-des-reductions-de-peine-Covid-19_603980
- R. Lecadre, “Coronavirus: le Conseil d’Etat refuse la fermeture des centres de rétention,” Libération, 27 March 2020, https://bit.ly/2QTT9t6
- N. Flochlay, “Coronavirus. Le centre de rétention administrative de Rennes est fermé,” Ouest France, 30 March 2020, https://www.ouest-france.fr/sante/virus/coronavirus/coronavirus-le-centre-de-retention-administrative-de-rennes-est-ferme-6795399
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in France,” https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/france